by Jim Lobe
(IPS) WASHINGTON --
there was any doubt about the global ambitions of the Bush administration hawks, it was dispelled late January when a group of influential right-wing figures complained that the current military budget of almost $400 billion -- greater than the world's 15 next biggest military establishments combined -- is not enough to sustain U.S. strategy abroad.
In a letter to the president released on the eve of his State of the Union address, the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), whose alumni include both figures close to Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, as well as most of their top aides, called for increasing the defense budget by as much as $100 billion next year.
"Today's military is simply too small for the missions it must perform," said the letter whose signatories included mainly key neo-conservatives, former Reagan administration officials, and a number of individuals close to big defence manufacturers like Lockheed Martin. "By every measure, current defence spending is inadequate for a military with global responsibilities." The letter, which also suggested that Washington should prepare for confrontations with North Korea, Iran, and China, is to be published Monday in the 'Weekly Standard,' the Rupert Murdoch-financed neo-conservative journal edited by William Kristol, PNAC's co-founder and chairman.
Publication of the letter comes as public confidence in Bush's leadership, and particularly his apparent eagerness to invade Iraq, has slipped substantially, according to recent by recent polls.
The same surveys show increasing concern as well about his management of the economy, including the return of 300 billion dollar budget deficits fuelled mostly by military and security-related spending and tax cuts.
It also comes as veteran foreign policy analysts here and abroad are warning that anti-American sentiment is rising sharply in both the Islamic world and among U.S. allies in both Europe and Northeast Asia due to the perception that the Bush administration is insensitive to their views and seeks permanent military domination of Eurasia.
In his State of the Union Address, Bush presented his budget and other priorities for the coming year. In the following days, the administration will make specific budget requests.
If the administration asks increases urged by PNAC, public concerns about Bush's intentions both here and abroad are likely to rise steeply.
On the other hand, PNAC's past letters, particularly its recommendations on its anti-terrorist campaign and Middle Eastern policy, have anticipated to a remarkable degree the administration's policy evolution.
Just nine days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, PNAC issued an open letter that called on Bush to take his anti-terrorist war beyond Afghanistan by ousting Saddam Hussein in Iraq, severing ties with the Palestinian Authority, and preparing for action against Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
PNAC in many ways is the latest incarnation of a series of hawkish groups dominated by Jewish neo-conservatives dating back to the 1970s, when they fought the anti-war wing of the Democratic Party and combined with Republicans like Rumsfeld to oppose detente with Moscow.
Midge Decter and her husband, Norman Podhoretz, for example, helped found the Committee on the Present Danger in the late 1970s and the Committee for the Free World in the early 1980s which Decter co-chaired with Rumsfeld. Both signed the new letter.
Founded formally in 1997, PNAC works mainly as a front group for the coalition of neo-conservatives, hard-right Republicans, and Christian Right activists behind what has come to be called Bush's "neo-imperialist " policies. Among its charter members were Rumsfeld, Cheney, and their chief deputies, Paul Wolfowitz and I Lewis Libby, respectively, as well as a dozen other top administration policy-makers today.
During the 2000 presidential campaign, PNAC produced a book-length blueprint for the incoming administration called 'Present Dangers' edited by Kristol and Robert Kagan, another signer and prominent neo-conservative.
PNAC is closely tied to the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) from which it rents office space, and whose leading lights include Perle, former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, and Lynne Cheney, the vice president's spouse.
The administration, which already won an $80 billion increase in the defense budget for fiscal 2003, has called for further increases up to 442 billion dollars by 2007. But hawks have warned that this will not match what is needed if Bush's global ambitions are to be realized.
"A year into this activist foreign policy," wrote Frederick Kagan, a military historian and Robert Kagan's brother, late last year, "the defence agencies that will prosecute the war on terrorism remained starved of resources. Increases of some 100 billion dollars annually or more -- over and above the increases already called for -- will be necessary to provide for a defense establishment able to fulfill the president's national security strategy."
The hawks insist this is realistic, because an increase of 100 billion dollars will bring the defence budget's percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) to only four percent, still lower in percentage terms than what the Pentagon received in the mid-1980s. "Less than a nickel on the dollar for American security in the 21st century is cheap at the price," according to the letter.
It enumerates the challenges that U.S. power must address, noting that the ouster of the Taliban in Afghanistan was "an essential first step' ' and that "an overwhelming military coalition (is) now ready to end the threat of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq."
"Removing Saddam is but the first step toward reconstructing a decent government in Iraq and carrying out your strategic vision for the Middle East. Other rogue states remain a major problem," the letter added .
"Indeed we now confront the two-war scenario: Even as we deploy forces for war against Iraq, North Korea, has abrogated its agreement to terminate its nuclear weapons development and threatens war if it is not appeased. The third member of the 'axis of evil,' Iran, has likewise stepped up its nuclear efforts," it argued.
It notes that the stabilization of Afghanistan remains to be secured, while "the war is also carrying U.S. troops across the border into Pakistan." In addition, Washington has committed itself "to a long-term military presence in Central Asia," while attacks in Bali and in the Philippines "show how this war has spared to South-east Asia."
"In East Asia, China, as your own administration says, is 'pursuing advanced military capabilities that can threaten its neighbors' -- our democratic allies -- and derail its own internal political and economic modernization," the letter said. "With U.S. troops stretched as they are, it is a serious question of whether we could respond adequately to a Korean crisis or a sudden confrontation in the Taiwan Strait."
"In sum, there is an increasingly dangerous gap between our strategic ends and our military means, and the Bush Doctrine cannot be carried out effectively without a larger military force," it asserts.
January 29, 2003 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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